I wasn’t fearless as a child, just ignorant. I climbed unsturdy trees and threw pebbles at wasps’ nests and rolled over rocks to see what creepy crawlies might lie beneath, often poisonous ones, much to my terrorized delight. We were out there all day, me and my sister and all the kids in the neighborhood, and really, nothing too terrible happened to any of us. The worse threats, I began to discover, came from elsewhere. Long before heartbreaking photos of missing children began showing up on milk cartons, my mother was obsessively afraid of kidnappers. Don’t ever talk to strangers, don’t ever get in anyone else’s car, do not open the front door unless you are absolutely certain who it is on the other side. Sensible advice, certainly, but the intensity of her eyes and voice when she told us these things freaked me out far more than anything that might be in the “wilderness” out back.My father had warnings for us as well. “If we are ever bombed,” he advised, “go up the gulley and into the tunnel. That’s the safest place.” The tunnel was a cement tube that was built to help drain the banana groves into the gulley in case of heavy rains. It was probably the worst place to be in a flash flood, but apparently sturdy enough to withstand another Pearl Harbor, albeit one significantly off-target. My mother scoffed at him. “Bombs. You think we get bombed, you have enough time to run all the way out there?” She didn’t sneer at the possibility that we could get bombed, mind you, only at my father’s poorly conceived plan of defense. So now there were bombers after us as well as kidnappers. It’s a wonder I got any sleep at all during those years.
But a funny thing happened. I left Kaneohe, left Hawaii altogether, and eventually ended up moving to New York City. And even though it seems completely perverse, I was not afraid of strangers at the door there. I knew they were out there, and I knew what could be done to help protect myself from them. A spider in the kitchen, though? Fuhgeddaboudit. Instant shrieking pandemonium.
I was a city girl then. I could walk block after block in those heels. Put a pair of hiking boots on me and set me on a mountainside, though, and watch me disintegrate. The Ex and I once bought all this expensive gear so we could hit the trails in Ireland; all I can say about that thoroughly wretched experience is it’s a good thing they got lots of pubs because boy did we need one afterward.And then The Ex became The Ex and I moved to Illinois and a bunch of stuff happened, the highlight of which was I took up running to a scarily obsessive degree—5Ks, 10Ks, halfs, fulls, and everything in between. Everything—except trail running. That lingering bit of city girl in me resisted the call of nature, dreaded feeling the whisper of spiderwebs over skin, the prick of bloodsucking vermin, the squelch of mud between toes, the general ickiness of it all.
Until now. The trails of east-central Illinois are nothing like the island wilderness of my youth, but there is a weird sense that I’ve somehow come full circle. I can’t really explain why I’ve changed so much over the years. I only know there’s a certain feeling I get when I’m out there alone and something rustles through the brush nearby. It might be an axe wielding kidnapper, or it might be a skittish little bunny rabbit, but I prefer to leave it unnamed and unknown, and simply continue to wonder what’s out there? even while I get a little closer to understanding what’s in here, in me, as I reclaim a little forgotten piece of the past.